My name is Amanda, and I’m a 32 year old dog mom and digital creator. I live and travel in my minivan with my Chihuahua, Wynston. We’ve been traveling for three years, and have been in our van for one year.
On January 3, 2020, I was officially divorced from my alcoholic husband. It had been a treacherous two year battle, and I remember walking out of the courtroom with a massive weight lifted off my shoulders. Despite everything I went through, I was finally ready to move forward.
Even though I lost in our court battle, it was going to be a good year. Or so I thought.
Life Throws Amanda Unimaginable Challenges
On March 22, 2020, cancer took my stepdad, David, at the young age of 68. Two days prior, I promised him two things on his deathbed; that I would take care of my mom, and I would never stop pursuing my dreams.
With two traumatic events under my belt in the first few months of 2020, and Covid looming by the time April hit, the Universe was about to hit me with one more life-changing event…
On April 27, 2020, my mom’s birthday, my dog, Wynston, was mauled to near death by the neighbor dog on the sidewalk in front of me. That was the worst day of my life. Wynston underwent life-saving surgery, then he endured reconstructive surgery a week later.
I hit a low.
I was recovering from the pain of a gnarly divorce. I was attempting to stay strong for my mom during the grief of my step dad’s passing. But by the time Wynston was thankfully recovering from his attack, I just knew there was more than sadness intended for me in this life.
Turning to Her Van Life Research Hobby
In the meantime, I had been researching RV/van life for years. I started traveling with Wynston in a Honda Fit in 2018. We drove to 12 states in 2019, and that was really the beginning of my van life journey.
During that time, I also started to purge my apartment. I donated items, sold big things I didn’t need, and threw away boxes upon boxes of stuff I didn’t need. This was part of the process to becoming a lighter human being in general. Eventually I’d be living in a vehicle and traveling the country – that was the end goal.
At the time, I wasn’t in a place to buy a van, or live full time on the road, as I had too much debt, not enough income, and other animals. I created goals and lists by way of YouTube, knowing that someday I’d continue to pursue my dreams, just as I promised David.
By the time June 2020 rolled around, Wynston was healing extremely well. He was making terrific progress, and I (and his surgeons) felt great about his overall wellbeing.
Through all my praying, wishing, dreaming and slowly making positive changes in my life over the past few years, I was finally able to make van life a reality. Nothing was going to stop me after all of the trauma I endured.
So, on June 19, 2020, I bought my 2011 Dodge Grand Caravan.
Let me back track by saying that I’ve been working remotely as an entrepreneur since 2013. I am the owner of a freelance writing business based in the pet industry, called Dog Mom Days, LLC. In 2018 I was named one of Arizona’s Top 25 Millennial Entrepreneurs, so I was already set up to work on the road.
Officially Buying Her Dodge Grand Caravan
I bought my van from OfferUp – a buying and selling app. I was looking for a Dodge Grand Caravan for the benefit of having stow-n-go seats. I also wanted a Dodge because they are easy to maintain and work on.
I had been searching for a couple weeks for my van. I was browsing all sorts of websites and dealerships. Dodge Grand Caravans are SUPER easy to find in the Phoenix, AZ area, so I had a ton of options.
My budget was $3500 for my van. I had looked at a 2006 Caravan that was for sale at a dealer, but dealerships always take advantage of your bank account with their ridiculous financing for a small loan. I also looked at a bigger Dodge Ram van from the 1980s. It was really cool, but I knew it would need work and the gas mileage wasn’t ideal.
One evening when I was browsing OfferUp, I came across the picture of my van. The first thing I noticed was that one of the doors didn’t match the rest of the van. I knew I could use this as a buying point in negotiations.
Turns out, I didn’t really need to negotiate. The owner of my van was Henry. Well, it was actually his wife’s van. She had passed away from liver complications just a week before my stepdad died. Unfortunately, Henry and I connected by way of grief.
Henry was asking $5000 for the van. All I had was $3500 cash. Although I didn’t want to offer a low ball figure, I simply explained to Henry I had the $3500 cash on my person. No offense if he didn’t want to take my offer. But he did. And ever since then, his wife has been my traveling guardian angel.
I immediately fell in love with my van, and all of its cosmetic damage. But I didn’t care. My van came with 115,000 miles, and I knew it was in outstanding mechanical shape.
My one year van-iversary is coming up, and I can say that I’ve put 30,000 miles on my van in the last year with no issues (knock on wood)!
The “No Build” Van Conversion
I did a “no-build” conversion on my van for a few reasons. I was living in an apartment at the time, so I didn’t have space to build anything. I also didn’t have access to tools, or any sort of knowledge when it came to having to put together a fancy van life kitchen, and other necessities. Frankly, fully converting the van didn’t sound fun or good to me at all.
Instead, I spent less than $1000 to purchase things to make my van livable for myself and Wynston. And I am SO in love with my tiny home on wheels.
Amanda’s Views on Van Life
I’ve been obsessed with RV life since I stepped foot in a camper when I was 5 years old. What’s funny is that I had never even been camping until a few years ago! My parents never owned an RV or anything like that, yet the lifestyle called to me.
Van life speaks to me because it’s simple. It’s freeing. It’s peaceful. Nothing holds you down or back unless you let it. The idea of living a very minimalistic life is so appealing because for me, less stuff = less stress.
Most people in my life have been extremely supportive of my newfound life in a minivan. My mom is my biggest supporter – she thinks it’s amazing that people aren’t forced to settle into 9-5 jobs anymore.
In the past year since I purchased my van, I’ve driven around the entire country with Wynston by my side. I prefer the west side of the country because it’s drier, easy to drive around, and full of gorgeous public land to enjoy. We’ve now been to 28 states together, and this summer we’ll cross at least 5 new states off our list!
At 32 years old living in a minivan with my dog, I’ve never felt better physically or mentally. I’m in the best shape of my life all around.
There’s something to be said for simple living. It’s like I always say: I’d rather fill my memory bank than my money bank. For me, the choice is clear.